Being honest, attempts to inject humour into metal usually don’t go too well. They either turn the act in question into a heavy novelty act, or they fly so far over the heads of the audience that they prove redundant anyway. For some reason, though, Winnipeg’s KEN mode have managed to nail it. They deliver pointed jibes at touring, suburban living and the fame game while delivering some of the most seething, scathing noise rock around, and now they’ve given us Loved, probably the purest example of this unique ethos yet. Oh, and founding members Jesse and Shane Matthewson have also founded MKM Management Services, aiming to deliver business and financial management for bands and touring acts. With so much happening, it’s a miracle that we managed to pin down Jesse to find out how they can stay so ambitious, funny and sane.
How are things going?
Just at work here in our little MKM office, trying to figure out what the next step to do is. I have a couple files to dig into but apart from that it’s just rehearsing, trying to get ready to go out on tour again. See how this all goes.
How does the touring work with your own stuff going on as well?
We’ll find out. This is the first time we’ve actually tried to do this while running our own business. From 2011 through to 2016 we just did the band fulltime and didn’t have jobs other than that. Prior to that, we’d often take time off from other jobs and just tour so we didn’t have any responsibilities but now, since we’re running our own company, we can’t just ghost our clients. That’s a good way to lose your client base and not have any income anymore so we have to pay attention and figure out how to actually do our work from the road. This will be a big experiment for us this year, finding out how it works and how well it works. Then we can rightsize next year to see how that’ll play out – if it works okay, we can take on some more responsibilities next year while touring.
What prompted you to change things up?
Part of it was that we weren’t making any money. We’re not a popular band; I mean, people know us within the scene but this is not a big scene. You can’t expect to make a living playing music like this so part of why we wanted to do this was that we felt people never really took us seriously before that. At least, build ourselves up to the point where we could go out on tour and call our own shots with bands that we’d like to tour with, and maybe make a little bit of money on it. I don’t think we ever even broke even on tour until around 2010 and that’s after being a band for 11 years at that point. We wanted to get to a place where we could tour the US, Canada and Europe and not lose money doing it. We toured as much as we could for about 5 years and just burned out after a while. It came to that life’s point of asking ourselves what we were going to do for money now. So we created our own jobs; now, we work with lots of really cool bands and handle their accounting, business management and grant-writing, stuff like that. It’s been a really neat, rewarding experience but now we get to see how that’ll mix with our own band.
Are you largely working with bands you already had relationships with, or has this opened up any new touring avenues for you?
The touring avenue made us meet a lot of people and that was a long game that ultimately I think I was playing. Even by doing music full-time, I was hoping that by the end of the cycle of us touring full-time I could translate that into some sort of job working within the music industry. We met a lot of label people, a lot of managers; even just in passing, you end up develop these relationships with people, and setting up a business like we have, it’s rare to find people that handle the business side of music, have a proper education in it, and have actually lived the lifestyle. We’ve slept on floors for years, we understand this world so that’s helped us being able to start our own business. You don’t meet people like us in this world. It’s a huge factor, making those contacts on tour because otherwise, why would people take us seriously? If it wasn’t for that, we’d be just another accounting firm.
When you were touring with H A R K, weren’t you managing all the tour finances at that point anyway?
Oh yeah. Funny one is that on that tour, Shane was doing all the accounting for the whole tour and at the end, H A R K had no idea how much they’d sold, how much money was coming in; he had break it down and wondered, how do bands function? That’s the case with a lot of bands – they don’t know what’s going on unless you have one guy in the band who’s paying attention. Even then, most bands don’t have professional accountants.
I had wondered about that as you guys are quite fiscally savvy. If you’re not breaking even after a tour, how does anyone?
Step one is you’ve got to play more popular type of music. Unfortunately, we’ve got that part of our brains that doesn’t work quite right so we seem to like this antisocial music that not many people care about.
Loved – is there a bit of irony in that title in the same way that there was with Success?
Depends – how do you view that term? That’s part of why we found that so funny. Depending on the person who’s reading it, you can either view that as present tense or past tense. Either way, it’s funny.
“There’s a certain degree of a middle finger towards expectations for the music industry. Somewhat, just a visceral reaction to what’s going on in technology, and the news. We wanted to make something that was wholly ugly and visceral and that was the result.”
I think I have an idea already, but how do you view it?
Conceptually, having it called Loved and having that cover is also entertaining to us. I think the album is going to take a lot of people aback, in the same way that Success did last time around.
It’s a very harsh record. Was there any prompt to move back in this direction?
There’s a certain degree of a middle finger towards expectations for the music industry. Somewhat, just a visceral reaction to what’s going on in technology, and the news. We wanted to make something that was wholly ugly and visceral and that was the result. People seem to be enjoying it and partially perhaps that’s a reaction to how people are feeling right now, particularly people who are listening to more artistic aggressive music. I guess it’s striking a chord. We’ve actually been a little surprised at how positive a reaction it’s gotten, maybe because we’re self-deprecating to a fault and maybe a little shell-shocked at how not into the last record some people might have been.
Was there a little bit of perversity in that you wanted people to dislike the record, or to feel almost offended by it?
Maybe a little, but we’re just doing this for ourselves. We want to make ourselves laugh, we want to play music that makes us feel something. If anyone else cares, that’s just icing on the cake. We’ve said a bunch on interviews for this record cycle but it’s not like we’re playing music for the masses. We’ve not sold millions of records in the past, we’re not relying on it to live so we’re completely making it for our own artistic integrity and purposes, so it’s funny even thinking of a band of our size doing anything for “the fans”. We’re stoked if anyone likes it and if they feel something, but it’s even down to how we produce our records. We put this package together because we enjoy doing that. I like making a record that looks and sounds good – marketing has nothing to do with it, though it is easier to sell if it looks and sounds good.
The list of producers you’ve worked with in the past has been incredible, and Andrew Schneider is another fantastic choice for this record.
Honestly, I make a list of all the people that I’ve always enjoyed records from other people and think, “How would we sound with that? Let’s fire them an email.” That’s as far as it goes. They always seem receptive to working with us and we have the money to pay them. Generally speaking, we’ve gotten along with everyone we’ve ever worked with, it’s been a fun experience and the output has been incredible. Maybe it sounds a little dramatic for me to say that about my own band but the fact that you create these songs out of nothing and then getting these people who are known throughout the world to make these albums is so cool – getting to hear your art through this different filter which is part of why we love working with these other people. I guess we have this reputation for working with a different producer for every record, and it’s not because we’re dissatisfied but it’s because we want to work with so many of these incredible producers, who make such cool sounds.
The fact is that a producer can make such a huge difference to the impact of an album. Is it almost another instrument to you?
It totally is, and there are plenty of records from bands that I like where they work with the same producer over and over again and it ends up all sounding the same. With the style that we play, a lot of it is all heavy all the time and if you don’t tweak things and adapt, it sounds like it could all be on one record. We never liked working like that. With all my favourite records from when I was growing up, the bands sounded different every record. Maybe that’s just playing off of the bands I’m using as a template, but The Melvins, early Today Is The Day, even down to bands like Kittens from Winnipeg, nothing ever sounded the same and to me that’s what kept it exciting. We like to do that with our own stuff, be it subtle changes or extreme ones. I just think that’s so cool, trying different things, otherwise what are you doing it for? I guess it could be for money but as I already said, we’re clearly not doing it for that.
I realised earlier that the other thing you’ve always switched up is bassists. Is Skot (Hamilton) the first bassist you’ve ever done two consecutive albums with?
Our first bassist, Darryl (Laxdal), was on two but the last album we did with him was only done because he was exiting the band and we wanted to record all the material we’d written with him up to that point. With Skot, technically he’s been on the most releases of ours as he did the Success LP, the Atlas Moth split 7”, the Nerve EP and now Loved. That’s two proper full-lengths so he’s quickly becoming the bassist with the most output.
Has there been something about him that clicked with your dynamic? It must be strange coming into a band where you’re the only member who isn’t related.
We feel bad for people coming into this band because we’re brothers, we’ve worked together, we’ve lived together – we’re about as close as you get when you think about the type of people you’d be in a band with. It’s tough coming into that but Skot has fir very well. He has the right sense of humour, the right taste in everything. Part of the reason we’re still a band today is because we use it to spend time with Skot. He’s on the same creative wavelength as us. He doesn’t even live in the same city as we do – we fly him in to write and rehearse. It’s not the easiest route but we do it because we like him so much.
One thing that has been consistent is working with Randy (Ortiz), though.
Granted, he’s only done two and a half covers but we’ve been working with him for over a decade now on all of our t-shirt designs, our posters, he did our Mennonite 7” box set. He’s done the layouts for a bunch of our stuff but he’s done the full packaging for the last two. He started doing his art full-time around the same time as we were becoming a full-time band. He’s been a friend of ours for years. It’s a good kinship we have going for us.
You mentioned about the sense of humour you have on your records. Is that something that has been kept up with Loved?
We joked about this earlier, that if you didn’t like the kind of humour that Success had, you’ll be doubly disappointed this time round.
I always appreciated that satirical take on middle class life that you have going on your records, but it’s an approach that seems quite alien to metal and hardcore in general. Is it purely because it aligns with your own sense of humour?
I think so. We only really started to interject that humour in the last two records, though there was a bit on Entrench. That was a little more on the nose but we started to take ourselves significantly less seriously in the past few years. Part of it is having Skot in the band too; we all have the same sense of humour, we’re all big comedy fans and a lot of the super-extreme stuff we’ve done on the past couple of records is usually done in a non-serious way, yet you could read it either way. It’s why we find the tone so fun.
You’ve always seemed like someone who takes their hobbies and passions to the next level. Does that approach affect how you view and consume music?
With music, I’m completely obsessed. I work in music, I consume music all day, I need to write it. During 2016 when we took basically the whole year off, by the end of the year I was depressed. My life was pretty good – I was finally making money again, I had my own place, I was eating well and exercising every day but because we weren’t playing together as a band, something just sunk and I needed to get that creative outlet going again. By the next year, things were fine because we were writing again.
How do you go into writing then? Is it a constant thing with you?
Surprisingly not. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing but while we were doing the band we’d write a record, record it and tour it for a year. All of our rehearsals were focused on making sure we were a tight live unit. We spent most of last year fine-tuning this record and the beginning of this year, we wrote it and we’ve taken a lot of the year off. We’ve been rehearsing now because we have a tour coming up but we’ve been writing some new material with a friend of ours, Drew Johnston who we played together with in this band before. He actually helped us put together Loved just by being our local guy we could play the material with. Skot and I would write the material, then run through it with Drew so Shane could come up with the drum parts, and then we could just put it all together. He played on “Fractures In Adults” on the record and we’re starting to write some more with him too. It’s still coming from hanging out with friends and being creative. A lot of the time, we’ll be writing riffs that we know aren’t going to go anywhere but they sound really cool, so maybe one day we’ll use it for something. Maybe it’ll be a KEN mode song, maybe we’ll start a new band, I don’t know, but we’re still writing, which is the one different thing from how this band has functioned in the past. It’s been nice but we’ll probably dive more seriously into writing the new record next year. I do like to take a little bit of time off so we can clear the palette a bit.